Saturday, 26 December 2015

Oh, there's a new album very much in progress!!!

Oh my, it's been a VERY long time since I posted a blog - my bad. Life has been very busy with family, work and photography since the last time I took to the keyboard, but as we approach the end of the year, things are starting to find something of a balance. But please don't tell anyone ;-)

Anyway, what a year thus far. The photo side of life has seen some seriously cool adventures, not least getting to shoot Heaven 17 in concert, as well as a gig done by legendary producer Tony Visconti, original Spiders From Mars drummer Woody Woodmansey and Heaven 17's very own Glenn Gregory and to top it all, a fabulous opportunity to photograph my favourite electronica lady Tara Busch, who was only supporting none other than Gary Numan and who I invited me to shoot his concert as well. Quite an evening that was as I ended up at the after show party and got to finally meet one of my musical heroes and influences - I wasn't disappointed either.

Musically, I took something of a little sabbatical after wiping the entire "Hollow Sun" album off of my computer - long story, too painful to relate just yet. And because of work commitments, I was unable to continue working with Dean Burnett and Weathered Wall - a shame as we were coming up with some seriously cool ideas. In the meantime, I've gathered a few more bits and pieces of software that have been a real asset to the GTK Studio, not least the acquisition of reFX's utterly fabulous Nexus 2 synthesizer - I also purchased a series of expansion packs as well. This is a synth that I have hankering after for sometime and now I have it. It's basically fucking amazing and I love it!!! I've added a few very nice effects bits as well which greatly improved the overall sound of things, such as Waves' Multi-Band Limiter, H-EQ and TrueVerb.

Now, back in the distant past (2011), I started a small "just-for-fun" project recording various bits and pieces of classical music. Instead of using MIDI files which are very readily available on the internet, I went about this using old and dusty manuscripts from my youth that I found in our garage whilst on a clear-up/out mission and played or step-programmed the pieces into the computer, thereby keeping to the original arrangements and replacing the orchestral instruments with synthesizers. Okay, I know this is nothing new or ground-breaking but as I mentioned earlier, this was nothing more than a little something to do between my many other bits and bobs of life. I've spent the last 4-5 years recording the pieces into the computer and every now and again, I would go back to them and perhaps change a sound here or add a bit of reverb there, nothing elaborate, just something to help me relax and enjoy with no thought of ever doing anything with them.

Well, after the Great Album Wiping of 2015, I lost the will to do any original music, but still dabbled with the classical thing, and then a couple of months ago, I realised what I had sitting on my hard drive was tantamount to an album of music!!! The purchase of Nexus 2 was a massive game-changer as well because three of the expansions I bought were by my favourite sound designer, the truly gifted BigTone (aka Brok Landers) and his sounds perfectly fitted the style of the music I was doing. So as it stands, I've been spending pretty much all my spare time recently working on this material to bring it up to a level that would be suitable for release and I'm getting there. I've also had to check up on licensing as well, and my how brilliant the Performing Rights Society have been - a huge shout out to them as they have been so incredibly helpful - and patient!!!

The next thing I need to look at is the cost of CD manufacturing, which was something that stopped my son Callum and I releasing the F/R-F album on CD - too bloody expensive!!! To try and raise the necessary funding, I am in the process of investigating some kind of kick-starter project, so more on that as it happens.

Assuming that the required funds can be acquired, I'm hoping for a release in the late Spring/early Summer, the date of which will be determined by the success (or not) of the kick-starter campaign if I go down that route. As for the album itself, it will be called "Intepretations" and it's character will be a fusion of a number of influences that will be recognisable, ranging from the inevitable Isao Tomita and Wendy Carlos to people such as Kevin Kendle, Bekki Williams and Billy Currie (his solo instrumental works). Here is the current track listing (definitely in no particular order):

Gymnopedie - Satie
Dolly - Faure
Nimrod - Elgar
Preludium - Grieg
Danse Macabre - Saint-Saens
Toccata - Widor
On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring - Delius
Masque - Khachaturian
Venus - Holst.

There will be others added I'm sure as I have quite a few that could make the album.

So, once this Christmas and New Year insanity is properly out of the way, I'll be making a lot more blog entries, in the main about the "Interpretations" album.

Hope you're enjoying whatever it is you do at this time of year :-)

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

More studio stuffs and other stuffs……

Been a while since my last posting, but trust me, these hands have not been idle!!!
I’ve been enjoying some great photo opportunities, not least electronic supergroup Node and the legendary Toyah Willcox, both of whom were an absolute delight to photograph – photos from the Node concert appeared on the cover and as part of an article within a leading music trade magazine called PSN Europe, a definite high-point of the year so far for me. On the exploration side of things, I've enjoyed a couple of cool locations, one being a former World War II airfield and the other a former steel works - both places afforded me some amazing opportunities for some great photos. I've also started dabbling in using studio strobe flash lights - a new and very different direction for me, early days yet, but it's quite fun. Here's a quick photo of a set up I was using recently in my living room:
Many of the post-Christmas sales from on-line retailers have been rather good this year, and I’ve managed to snaffle a few bargains along the way. Here’s the latest baggings for the camera bag and the GTK Studio:
The increasing volume of gig photography I have been doing led me to a point where I realised that I needed a second camera body. I already had a sufficient collection of lenses, but it was getting increasingly more difficult to keep changing them on the body during the course of a concert. For the Node all-dayer, I borrowed my sons Canon 1100D camera body as a second camera and that pretty much signed the deal as far as I was concerned. A nice second-hand prive on eBay has gotten me a second 1100D DSLR camera and the easy life has ensued.
This has been a real boon to my camera set up and a lens which I use quite often. it’s very light in weight, has incredible clarity and was a very good price. I’m using it for both concert photography and explores and it’s given me plenty of really photos.
There are times when the on-board flash on your camera doesn’t quite make the mark, and when that happened to me, I headed straight to the Internet (on the advice of an old friend) and picked myself up one of these Speedlite type flashes. It’s a manual flash in that you have to set it’s power level, the only communication with the camera is the actual firing of the flash, but it is zoomable and can be used in a number of different configurations owing to the movable head. It can also be used as a slave flash, thanks to the sensor on the front of the unit (this means it can be fired away from the camera by another flash unit with the need for cables etc). it has a very good price tag and has proven to be a valuable addition to my camera bag.
Okay, so it’s a camera bag – or perhaps I should say backpack for the pedants amongst you. My Tamrac System 3 shoulder bag was ideal – until I bought a second camera body. Sadly, there was insufficient room for carrying the gear about and meant a lot of faffing about when on location, be it an explore or a gig venue. So, I headed back to the Internet and found this little beauty on Amazon as part of their “AmazonBasics” range. it’s ideal in that I can carry both cameras with lenses attached along with all the other paraphenalia we photographists truck around with us and it has straps to take the tripod as well – that has proven to be very useful as I was getting very sore shoulders from carrying several bags!!!. Highly competitive price and good quality as well.
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This little MIDI keyboard controller is shaped and laid out as a replica of the classic vintage Korg MS-20 synthesizer, and it's design concept was to be used as a controller for the company's software emulation of the same synth. It's a great piece of kit which we're all having a lot of fun with, it might have mini keys and is only 85% the size of the original, but it's doing is job perfectly, even down to the use of patch cables!!! It's also getting as rare as hen's teeth, so I'm particularly pleased that I managed to attain one as I have been wanting one of these for a very long time.
This was a competition win from Dolphin Music, an online music shop. Another cool piece of kit, it's pristine sounding and has three USB ports built in which is perfect when using several USB MIDI controllers as I do.
The Waves HLS Channel is a modeled mic pre-amp/EQ plugin, based on the rare 1960s vintage Helios console as used in London's famous Olympic Studios and developed in association with the legendary producer/sound engineer Eddie Kramer (Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones to name but a few). For this plugin, Waves actually used the Helios desk from the Rolling Stones mobile truck, which was used on a slew of classic recordings during the early 1970s. It's very capable at giving a warm authentic vintage colour to a mix, a really cool thing when working with digital synthesizers. Sounds great when used in conjunction with the Waves Kramer PIE Compressor.
The Waves Kramer PIE Compressor is modelled on a rare 1960s vintage compressor (as used in the Olympic Studios) built by electronics company Pye (those of a certain age will remember their televisions and radios) and developed with the help of the above-mentioned Eddie Kramer. The Pye compressor was something of a mainstay in a number of the top British studios of the time, and even now, the original Pye processors are generally considered to be among of best buss compressors ever. Another highly useful plugin that provides some excellent compression and a certain vintage feel.
This is one plugin pack that I have been hankering after for some time, it didn't come cheap, but you certainly get what you pay for. The three plugins that make up the Brilliance Pack were meticulously modeled on the RS127 Rack, RS127 Box and RS135 units and definitely give some of the finest treble equalisation I have heard. The original units were built exclusively by Abbey Road's own in-house engineers during the 1960s and were something of a secret weapon. Softube state that these three units have never been available outside of Abbey Road Studios before the release of the plugin pack. So, these three plugins, the original grey RS127, the green RS127 with added transformer and the 8 kHz only RS135, seriously add beautiful sounding treble and presence that has no harshness and give a real sparkle to individual tracks as well as a full mix.
For a very long time, the name Lexicon has been synonymous with a kind of gold standard digital reverberation, and despite being the entry level reverb plugin, the MPX Reverb actually delivers that legendary sound. It uses just one polymorphic interface, offering seven different types of reverb types and a real stash of hugely versatile and well put together presets. It may be the entry level software reverb, but it's Lexicon, need I say any more? The quality you expect from Lexicon is what you will get from the MPX. A reverb that oozes class.
I've been using EZDrummer for a while now so had no qualms in upgrading to version 2. It's better. All round. It has already proven to me to be like having your own drummer in your studio, without the hassles of kits, mics and attitudes. Version 2 two offers more flexibility in it's programming and overall use, it offers 5 drum kits, 2 drum libraries, 16 multiple outputs and a plethora of MIDI and audio options. I cannot wait to get going on a few tracks I have that need drums on them. As I said, I loved EZDrummer, but I adore EZDrummer 2.
iLOK USB KEY (2nd generation):
I've resisted getting the iLok USB key (a form of copyright protection using a USB flash drive) for sometime now as I have never really felt comfortable  with them, having seen the issues that other muso chums have had with them. But, in order to run the Softube and Lexicon software, I had to concede and so the GTK Studio computer is iLok'd.
For much the same reason as the iLok, I had avoided going down the eLicensor route, but again, to facilitate the use of things like Cubase Elements (which was and still is an absolute pig to install, not helped by poor assistance from Steinberg) and future soft-synths I plan to get in the future, I had to give in and get one. I've got it now and it's installed. Wish I could say the same for Cubase Elements. However, that served as a reminder as to why I use Reaper.
Now this was something of a discovery. I had seen the SynthMaster on various adverts and cut-down versions on magazine discs, but never took the time to check it out. One remiss that has now been well and truly resolved!!! SynthMaster is a bit of a synth Swiss Army knife in that it  a semi-modular soft-synth and effect plug-in that offers a multitude of different synthesis methods including VA, Additive, Wavetable, Wavescanning, Phase Modulation, Frequency Modulation, Pulse Width Modulation, Ring Modulation, Amplitude Modulation, Physical Modeling and SFZ Sample Playback synthesis. it's oscillators are multi-synthesis and it has some pretty serious analog modelled/digital filters, flexible effects routing with 11 types of high quality effects and a massive modulation architecture with 95 separate modulation sources and 650+ modulation targets. Take a breath after that lot!!! And you know what? It's sounds great.
The Sonimus Britson plugin is based upon the classic British Neve 8014 mixing console, and it's design seeks to emulate the workflow and sound of an analogue mixing console. The Britson really has a personality all its own and more than ably gives a certain vintage warmth that works incredibly well alongside the Waves V-Series. Already, a template I created in Reaper using the Britson with the Waves V-EQ4 is now my go-to starting point.
The Waldorf Edition 2 contains updated versions of their D-Pole filter, Attack drum synth and the breathtaking PPG Wave 2.V synth emulation. To my ears, all three products have a sharper, crisper sound and the nicely updated GUI's are, to my eyes, an absolute pleasure.
This bundle from Waves Audio contains the products, the V-Comp compressor and the V-EQ3 and V-EQ4 equalisers. The V-Comp is based on Neve 2254 buss compressor and provides vey clear compression, limiting & de-essing. The V-EQ3 is based upon highly revered Neve 1066 & 1073 modules and is great for both tracking and mastering, providing a real 1960s/1970s feel. And the V-EQ4 is based on the equally applauded Neve 1081, providing a seriously smooth and responsive performance with a very authentic vintage sound. The V-Series delivers a fabulous vintage vibe, full of warmth and character, particularly when used in conjunction with the Sonimus Britson console strip.
Vertigo is a top class additive synthesizer and is providing some beautifully crystalline synth textures and sounds. It also creates wonderful spectral type sounds of which I am rather partial. Offering 256 oscillators WAV / bitmap re-synthesis, 2 morphable layers, dual filters that can be run  in serial and parallel modes, FFT view and 8 effects. I'm already getting really lovely shimmering textures and tones, particularly when using a convolution reverb.
An excellent companion to the equally brilliant Shimmer reverb from Valhalla DSP, the simply named Room reverb has become something of a go-to reverb. Room is a true stereo algorithmic reverb, with eleven different reverberation algorithms (with names such as Nostromo, Narcissus, Sulaco and LV-426!!!), and it produces some really cool natural-sounding reverberation, comparable, I think, to some convolution reverbs I've heard. Wonderful sound and highly flexible with a terrific price, get this in your set up now!!!


A few plans for the coming weeks. I have a number of photos events such as Heaven 17 live at The Waterfront in Norwich alongside a series of “related” explores and further daliances with my set of studio strobes. I’m also helping my son, Callum Raeburn-Fellowes with his debut album, “Autumn’s Breeze” and his pending debut solo live performance at the Awakenings Evening of Ambient and Electronic Music. Work is continuing on a new album with Dean Burnett under the name of Weathered Wall and we’re starting to put together a set for live performance. My work continues on my next album, despite irretrievably wiping the entire thing from my hard-drive a couple of weeks ago – yet another fresh start, but I am quite confident of a release before the end of the year.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

2015? How did that happen?

I cannot believe that we are now in 2015.

My good lady Anne and myself were discussing this the other day as this year, we are both 50 years old.

A half century.


What we found interesting during our chat was that as young teenagers, we wondered about the future, how things would look in the year 2000 (that was 15 years ago by the way), what would the cars look like, what gadgets would we have. And, we came to realise that we now live in that future - our future if you like. Who would have seen wireless internet? Who would have seen touchscreen tablets and mobile phones that, even at their cheapest end, have more computing power than the computers used to send man to the Moon (if you believe they actually did send men to the Moon of course, but that's another discussion for another day). And of course, it's a shame that we have the negative aspects that one would really have thought could not possibly exist in the future, but sadly do, that being chronic social inequality, governments governed by unaccountable corporate entities and the rise of the religious fanatic. When I look at the sociological aspects of the our generic evolution over the last 40 years, I cannot help that we've somehow gone backwards. But, one remains optimistic, we have an election coming up in May and hopefully the awful people that have been wrecking this country will be put out of power and everyone will have a chance to be the person they would like to be.

But that's stuff.

The Christmas and New Year period are great for sales and online bargains, and once again, I've taken full advantage with a few nice pieces of software for the GTK Studio, so please read on:

IK Multimedia British Studio Series:

This three part bundle contains the British Channel, White Channel and Bus Compressor, based upon the processors and channel strips of a classic British mixer. The British Channel looks to be based upon the SSL desk that defined the sounds of the 80's and 90's, providing excellent tonal control with it's 4-band EQ (of which there are two versions, emulating the Black and Brown EQ circuits) with added high and low pass filters. There's also a very usable and effective compressor/gate/expander section. The White Channel is a kind of modern-day equivalent of the British Channel with enhanced compressor and EQ capabilities. The Bus Compressor is Bus Compressor is a pretty cool emulation of the emulation of the 2-bus compressor found in the same two consoles that British and White Channel are based on. It gives a certain something to a mix when added to the master channel on your DAW, in that it glues everything together - I'm still getting to grips with it, but I've noticed a radical improvement in some of my mixes already. it can go from being very subtle to completely over the top, and sounds great on drum/percussion sub-mixes.

TubeOhm Bruno III:

This is an upgraded version of the excellent Bruno-RP synthesizer, based upon the classic Roland Juno 106. This new version adds some seriously cool new features and capabilities, giving a lot more flexibility and a wider palette of sound options. And you know what? It sounds fantastic. I set up one of it's arpeggio presets alongside an arpeggio sequence from ReFX's excellent Vanguard synthesizer and it sounded incredible - please do expect to hear both of these synths on "Hollow Sun" when I eventually get it done.

Nomad Factory PulseTec EQs:

This is a great product. The Nomad factory PulseTec EQs are an emulation of the classic Pultec Mid-Range Equalizer MEQ-5 and Pultec Program Equalizer EQP-1A. These two products have been combined into a sungle plugin, but can be used individually as well as together. Nomad factory have also added in an analog pre-amp section which adds an input/output level controls as well as a simple 'Clipper' limiter at the master output section. The Pulse-Tec MEQ-5 is a mid-range equaliser which is great for adding a bit of body or presence, and sounds amazing on vocals. The PulseTec EQP-1 works primarily on the low and/or top end frequencies without affecting the mid-range tones. I'm already finding it great to use on orchestral sounds and vocals. Not bad looking either in a vintage sort of way.

Sknote Presence:

I found this little bit of software quite by chance whilst reading through a couple of forums looking for an alternative to the excellent Softube Abbey Road Brilliance Pack (insufficient funds and I don't have that seriously annoying iLok USB thing). Presence is a multi-mode exciter, designed to give a little more edge or brightness to the frequency spectrum of tracks, group channels and mixes, useful when fullness, strength or punch are missing, but without affecting dynamics. In the short time I've had it, I've found it be very complimentary to a whole manner of sounds from drums/percussion to string synths and guitars. it's stupidly cheap, insanely low on CPU use and provides a lot of bang for it's buck. Recommended.

I'm currently producing an album of ambient/New Age music called "Autumn's Breezes", recorded by son, Callum Raeburn-Fellowes, using the new software production tools described above and we've really noticed a marked difference in the quality of the mixes since adding them into the effects chains.

On the photography front, 2015 got off to a fantastic start with a gig at Epic Studios in Norwich by From The Jam, which features original Jam bassist, Bruce Foxton. Got some cool photos and enjoyed a great evening of music. In the diary already are minimalist music artists A Winged Victory for the Sullen at Epic Studios on the 7th February, Mariachi El Bronx on the 15th February at Epic Studios, electronic "super-group" Node at the Royal College of Music in London on the 27th February and 80's punk princess Toyah Willcox, again at Epic Studios on the 28th March. Hoping to get a few more lined up, just waiting for the emails with the yays and nays on those. Equipment-wise, I have a Canon 10-18mm ultra-wide angle lens on order which should be here any day now - very excited about that one I can tell you.

You can see the From The Jam pictures on my Flickr page by clicking the link below:

The Review Elektro website is now up and running. I've put on a few reviews already, and will be drip-feeding new reviews in over the course of the next month. I'm hoping to get the first album reviews sorted within the next week or so. You can check out the website here:

It's all go for a great 2015, hopefully the plans being made will see some fruition, but not to worry of not, it's the doing that's most important.